Scams and Frauds Affecting Mainers

With friends, family and constituents reporting so many internet and telephone scams these days, I thought I would pull together information about the most common ones, in hopes of helping us all defend against then.

The most alarming call I’ve experienced personally is a scammer who impersonated an IRS agent. Some con artists who use this ploy will even threaten you with deportation, arrest and revocation of your driver’s license if you fail to follow instructions.

The call often goes like this: “We have a legal matter that requires your immediate attention. We need your full name and social security number. Press 1 now to give this information.”

In another similar call, the caller said he was sending the sheriff to arrest me within 45 minutes unless I made a payment to him over the phone. This gentleman was very credible. I knew it was a scam, and in fact I have the good fortune to know our local Sheriff Bill King, but this caller was entirely believable and very alarming.

If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS or, in a new twist – the Treasury Department – and uses the threat of legal action if you do not pay immediately, that your cue to write down the caller’s number and hang up.

The IRS generally first contacts people by mail – not by phone – about unpaid taxes and the IRS will not ask for payment using a prepaid debit card, a money order or a wire transfer. The IRS will not ask for a credit card number or your bank information over the phone.

You should definitely report this scam. The Tax Inspector General is actively trying to stop it. Visit www.treasury.gov/tigta/ or call 800-366- 4484 to do so. Your report will help.

Another common phone scam is perpetrated by someone posing as a relative, especially a young relative in need of financial assistance. One call I have gotten three times lately is a call from my “grandson” or “granddaughter.” The call will often tell a sorry story of being in an accident and needing money. Two of the calls I got had the same exact script. The third was a little different, but equally alarming. Often the caller says you can call a lawyer and they will explain, but you should wire the money now. They might also ask you to send iTunes gift cards, or make another suspect financial request. Please report this scam at ftc.gov/complaint or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.

Yet another prevalent scam arrives via text message. Typically, a scam texter will fake a problem with one of your bank accounts, and say that you need to enter your account information to reactivate it. Or they might pitch low-cost mortgages or credit cards, or promise free gift cards. If you respond by texting back confidential personal information, your identity may be stolen. Millions of these “SMiShing” texts can be launched simultaneously, so it’s easy for the scammer. Please report this scam to Maine’s attorney general at maine.gov/ag or by calling 626-8800.

One important tip: Never follow a texter’s instructions to push a designated key to opt out of future messages. Instead, if you are an AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon or Sprint subscriber, you can report spam texts to your carrier by copying the original message and forwarding it to the number 7726 (SPAM). This service is free.

The last scam I want to make sure you are aware of is related to the new Medicare cards. Congress passed a law in 2015 that requires the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to remove Social Security numbers and signatures from all Medicare cards.

The new cards are starting to come out this month. While they will be much safer, in an ironic twist, scammers are already targeting older adults informing them that they must pay for their new card and/or verify sensitive information. Neither is true. Your new card will come to you automatically. Medicare will never call you uninvited.

As these scams become more prevalent (and of course there are many new ones being created each day) the Legislature is making efforts to protect you. One of the best things you can do is to place a credit freeze. Gaining access to your credit report is the goal of scammers and identity thieves. Thanks to a new Maine law, any resident of any age can place a “freeze” on their credit report for free. To setup the Maine Credit Freeze, contact The Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection at 1-800-332-8529 or visit www.maine.gov/consumercredit.

Another tip: although it does not stop every call, it is helpful to place your home phone and mobile phone numbers on the federal Do Not Call registry at donotcall. gov. To stay informed, the AARP Fraud Watch website is also very good. You can sign up for a weekly email listing the latest scams.

I hope this information has been helpful. I am especially interested in stopping the alarming IRS scam in which the caller threatens immediate legal action or arrest if you do not cooperate. So if you hear of that one, please let me know, as I may be able to place a priority report to help track the activity. You can reach me at martin. grohman@legislature.maine.gov or at 283-1476.

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